The possibility of visiting and even living on Mars just got a little better as huge ice sheets on the planet’s surface could be a potential source of water. Josh King has the story (@abridgetoland).
Scientists have known for some time that vast ice sheets lie deep beneath the rusty surface of Mars. But details about the thickness of the ice, its composition and its layering have been difficult to gauge—until now. As Mike Wall reports for Space.com, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has discovered eight sites where erosion has exposed enormous deposits of ice, some of which are 330 feet thick.
The findings, described recently in the journal Science, were made with the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, which has been taking images of Mars since 2005. The sites of exposed ice are located on steep slopes, or “scarps,” in Mars’ midlatitudes. The ice seems to be relatively pure and some of the deposits are only about a meter below the surface, writes Robbie Gonzalez of Wired.
Scientists are intrigued by these discoveries for a number of reasons. For one, the deposits of ice could shed light on Mars’ climate history. The authors of the study theorize that the layers of ice began as snow, which compacted and hardened into ice sheets. Mars’ obliquity—or the tilt of its axis—has varied considerably over millions of years, shifting between 15 and 35 degrees over the course of millennia. And when the tilt is higher, ice is more likely to form at the planet’s midlatitudes.